Address by President Ramaphosa to European Parliament, South Africa–European Parliament, Strasbourg, France
President of the European Parliament, Mr Antonio Tajani,
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour and a privilege to address this gathering in the centenary year of the birth of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding father of our democratic nation, a revered statesman and a committed internationalist.
We celebrate this centenary knowing well that Nelson Mandela does not belong to us, as South Africans, alone.
He belongs to all the people across the world who hold dear to the progressive and universal values for which he stood, and to which he dedicated his life.
He belongs not only to those who lived through the tumultuous events of the last century, but also to the generations that are to follow.
We live in the world that Mandela and the many great leaders of his age made.
We are grateful to the European Union – and to the leaders and peoples of Europe – for the tributes they have paid, in many different ways, to Nelson Mandela on the occasion of the centenary of his birth.
It is testament to the universal appeal of his vision that he is as revered on this continent as he is across the African continent.
We remember with the nations of the world the centenary of the armistice that marked the end of the First World War.
We pay tribute to all those who lost their lives in that great human tragedy, including the many South Africans of all races who fought in that war and who perished on these foreign shores.
Twenty-six years ago, in the city of Maastricht, the leaders of Europe signed the historic treaty that would mark a new era in the continent’s history.
Now, more than a quarter century later, that affirmation – of democracy, of liberty, of respect for human rights, of fundamental freedoms and the rule of law – endures.
These timeless values are beacons of hope in our troubled times.
For despite our greatest efforts, the world today is blighted by conflict, poverty and underdevelopment.
In poorer countries, there is still a lack of meaningful social progress, unrest and displacement.
The spectre of the resurgence of racism and xenophobia cloaked in the mantle of nationalism is rising, and is a cause for great concern.
Unilateralism is on the rise and threatens to undermine our collective commitment to democratic values and respect for human rights.
Now, more than ever, we turn to our great leaders for strength and inspiration as we seek to resolve the most pressing challenges of the present.
We recall their words and their actions as we reaffirm our commitment to democratic values and to upholding the rights of every human being.
It was the great statesman and friend of the anti-apartheid cause, Olof Palme, who said:
“For us, democracy is a question of human dignity. This includes the political liberties, the right to freely express our views, the right to criticise and to influence opinion. It embraces the right to health and work, to education and social security.”
This view of democracy resonates with Nelson Mandela’s vision of a global community of nations that affirms the centrality of human dignity – and strives through all means available to improve the human condition.
Just four months after his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela paid his first visit to the European Parliament to receive the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
He used this occasion to thank the leaders and people of Europe for their contribution to the liberation of South Africa.
He called on the nations of Europe to continue to stand by South Africa as we sought to rebuild our country.
We are here today to confirm that indeed the nations of Europe answered that call, with conviction and generosity.
We are here today, following in the footsteps of Mandela, to thank the people of Europe for their untiring support.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The European Union was born out of the need to end the historic divisions on the continent, to create a firm base for the construction of a new Europe rooted in solidarity and cooperation and to contribute to global peace, security and development.
The countries of Africa have similarly embarked upon a new path of peace, development and transformation.
The African Union’s Agenda 2063 provides a programme for integration and prosperity on a continent that has been racked by division, exploitation and strife.
Nelson Mandela was an ardent advocate for Pan-Africanism, and believed that the continent could only reach her full potential if her peoples were united.
In pursuing this goal, there are many lessons we can draw from the European Union’s path to integration, to economic and political union, and to achieving social progress.
South Africa notes the tireless work of the European Parliament to ensure that the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty on the eradication of poverty continue to underpin the EU’s approach to external development cooperation.
Since 2007, South Africa and the EU have enjoyed the mutual benefits of a Strategic Partnership that continues to play a meaningful role in our country’s economic growth.
It covers over 20 sectoral policy dialogues on diverse issues from development cooperation, science and technology, health, trade, education and skills development to peace, migration, security and human rights.
An integral part of this partnership are the Inter-Parliamentary meetings between the South African Parliament and the European Parliament.
These meetings have played a crucial role in strengthening SA-EU relations, contributing to a strategic partnership based on equality, shared values and issues of mutual interest.
Allow me to express our sincere appreciation for the contribution that the European Union and the European Parliament have made not only to the development of South Africa, but also towards the achievement of progress across the African continent.
Nelson Mandela led South Africa in its peaceful transition to democracy.
But he had a bigger dream, of an Africa at peace with itself and the world.
In his lifetime he supported the fledgling African Union’s efforts towards conflict prevention and resolution, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction.
He would have joined us in applauding the EU’s support to the African Union’s peace and security architecture and its steadfast support for efforts to silence the guns of Africa.
He always argued that lasting peace and security on the continent will not be possible without economic development.
Without opportunity, without investment, without thriving economies that enable us all to enjoy our place in the sun, we cannot hope to have political and social stability on the African continent.
We therefore welcome the support of the European Union for Africa’s developmental needs through initiatives such as the European External Investment Plan, the Economic Partnership Agreement and the new Africa-European Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs.
We should strive to ensure that these approaches are developed and implemented in line with Agenda 2063 of the African Union.
We should seek to ensure that these developmental initiatives support the establishment of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area and Africa’s overall industrialisation, infrastructure development and economic transformation.
We need to work together, as the countries of Europe and Africa, to develop sustainable and humane responses to the challenge of irregular migration.
This is a challenge that Europe has had to deal with in recent years.
So too has South Africa and several other African countries.
We need to work together to address the root causes of irregular migration, which include poverty, inequality, unemployment, economic exclusion and competition for scarce resources.
This should be informed by principles of solidarity and compassion, and by an unwavering commitment to the human rights of all people.
Africa is the cradle of humankind.
It is rich in land and water, abundant in minerals and blessed with a young, vibrant population.
It is the next frontier for growth, innovation and social progress.
To realise this potential, the people of Africa must unite.
Africa will continue to strengthen bonds of friendship and cooperation with the citizens of her sister continents.
It is therefore a matter of great satisfaction and promise that our partnership with the European Union is as strong as it has been enduring.
It is grounded in responsibility, respect and mutual accountability.
The nations of the EU are a source of investment, trade, skills and knowledge, which has worked with us as South Africa in our quest to grow our economy and improve the lives of our people.
As we look to the future, we will continue to count on the strength of this partnership between our countries and our peoples.
It was international solidarity that enabled us to extinguish the evil system of apartheid.
It was collaboration and partnership that bound the countries of Europe in a pact to never again return to the excesses and divisions of the past.
Unity, partnership and solidarity are the principles that have underpinned our cooperation, across two vast and different continents, out of dark histories and into a promising new dawn.
South Africa, Africa and the European Union are bound by shared values of democracy and respect for human rights.
We share a commitment to the ideals of free and prosperous societies – societies in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
We owe it to our great forbearers – leaders of the calibre of Nelson Mandela – to focus on what unites us and not what divides us, on what benefits us all and not on what enriches a few.
We owe it to them to build a strategic partnership that endures, that flourishes and that, above all else, advances the cause of human dignity.
We thank you all for your friendship, solidarity, partnership and support.
I thank you.